I've been doing some research into Barack Obama's record during his 8 years in the Illinois State Senate. A NY Times story "In Illinois, Obama Proved Pragmatic and Shrewd" from mid-2007 has some good insights:
Mr. Obama did not bring revolution to Springfield in his eight years in the Senate, the longest chapter in his short public life. But he turned out to be practical and shrewd, a politician capable of playing hardball to win election (he squeezed every opponent out of his first race), a legislator with a sharp eye for an opportunity, a strategist willing to compromise to accomplish things.
It's good to hear that Obama can play hardball because he will certainly need that skill to defeat the overtly negative and subtly racist attacks that will be hurled against him both from Democrats resistant to change and Republicans deeply concerned about an electoral landslide with Obama at the top of the ticket (something they will not be worrying about if Hillary is the Democratic nominee).
At the same time, it does appear that Obama has the ability to reach across the aisle and work with the opposition party to get things done:
He positioned himself early on as a protégé of the powerful Democratic leader, Senator Emil Jones, a beneficiary of the Chicago political machine. He courted collaboration with Republicans. He endured hazing from a few black colleagues, played poker with lobbyists, studiously took up golf.
By the time he left Springfield in 2004, he had built not only the connections necessary to win election to the United States Senate but a record not inconsistent with his lofty rhetoric of consensus building and bipartisanship.
Fixing some of the most pressing problems our country faces will certainly require a degree of bipartisanship although less will be required in an Obama presidency because our majority margins in both houses of Congress are likely to be greater. Still, the Senate has the filibuster rule so we will be better off with a president who does not serve as a lightning rod effectively galvanizing rank-and-file Republicans to oppose each and every initiative that the next president will put forward.
Obama's soaring oratory has been matched with a clear sense of practicality that his opponent accuses him of lacking:
"He came with a huge dose of practicality," said Paul L. Williams, a lobbyist in Springfield and former state representative who is a supporter of Mr. Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Williams characterized Mr. Obama's attitude as, "O.K., that makes sense and sounds great, as I'd like to go to the moon, but right now I've only got enough gas to go this far."
On top of all this Obama has a solid record of achievement in the Illinois Senate that included reaching across the aisle and negotiating difficult legislation like campaign finance reform:
With the assistance of Senator Jones, Mr. Obama helped deliver what is said to have been the first significant campaign finance reform law in Illinois in 25 years. He brought law enforcement groups around to back legislation requiring that homicide interrogations be taped and helped bring about passage of the state's first racial-profiling law. He was a chief sponsor of a law enhancing tax credits for the working poor, played a central role in negotiations over welfare reform and successfully pushed for increasing child care subsidies.
I encourage you to read the entire NY Times story.Also, from early 2007 CBS has a story on his Illinois record. Obama had a solid pro-choice record on abortion:
He had a 100 percent rating from the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council for his support of abortion rights, family planning services and health insurance coverage for female contraceptives.
He supported gun control but sometimes went against gun control advocates:
Obama regularly supported gun-control measures, including a ban on semiautomatic "assault weapons" and a limit on handgun purchases to one a month.
Obama parted company with gun control advocates when he backed a measure to let retired police officers and military police carry concealed weapons.
The idea that Obama will be a tool of big business isn't supported by examining his Illinois record:
Obama occasionally supported higher taxes, joining other Democrats in pushing to raise more than 300 taxes and fees on businesses in 2004 to help solve a budget deficit.
That's one reason Illinois business groups gave Obama a low rating, while labor groups praised him. But even Obama's allies say he refused to become a rubber stamp for their legislation.
Obama took on tough issues and demonstrated he could work with the other side:
During his last two years, Democrats controlled the chamber and he was the go-to guy on a variety of issues. He helped pass legislation overhauling Illinois' troubled capital punishment system and was a key figure in requiring a massive statewide study of traffic stops to look for signs of racial profiling. Although police groups opposed the legislation, they say Obama listened to their concerns and accepted some of their suggestions to improve the bill.
Even when he was in the political minority, Obama sometimes played a critical role. He helped write one of the rare ethics laws in a state known for government corruption and worked on welfare reform with Republicans.
He stood up for gays, the poor and average working people:
He sponsored legislation to bar job and housing discrimination against gays, and he helped create a state version of the earned income tax credit for the poor. Obama also led efforts to reject federal rules that would have put workers' overtime checks in jeopardy.
Some key votes:
- Voted to end $300 million worth of tax breaks for businesses. (2004)
- Voted for having Illinois endorse embryonic stem cell research. (2004)
- Voted against restrictions on public funding of abortion. (2000)
- Successfully co-sponsored a prescription drug discount buying club program for seniors and the disabled. (2003)
- Unsuccessfully co-sponsored ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. The measure became law after Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate. (2003)
- Successfully co-sponsored major ethics reform called the Gift Ban Act. (1998)
The bottom line is that Obama's got plenty of substance to match the style, he has stood up for progressive causes throughout his career, and he can lead us to a huge victory in November.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!